Dave Halls, the assistant director on the New Mexico set of “Rust” where an accidental shooting in 2021 killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, received a suspended six-month jail sentence in his plea hearing Friday in New Mexico court.
Halls pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon and the unsafe handling of a firearm and received a “suspended six-month sentence with unsupervised probation,” the case’s presiding judge, Mary Marlowe Sommer, explained to the defendant.
Sommer told Halls he could have asked for a court case. “Are you willing to give up that right?” she asked. “Yes, your honor,” answered Halls, who appeared via video.
Sommers added that Halls also would be required to testify in all hearings involving any and all defendants in the case, had to pay a $500 fine, attend a firearm safety course within 60 days, and have no contact with witnesses and co-defendants in the case.
Halls earlier had reached a plea agreement with New Mexico prosecutors in his role in the shooting death. His hearing was streamed live on the New Mexico court’s YouTube channel. Also present were Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis representing the state of New Mexico, and Halls’ attorney Lisa Torraco.
How was Dave Halls involved?
Halls was inside the church at the movie ranch outside of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021, when the shooting occurred. He handed the Western-style revolver involved in the shooting to actor Alec Baldwin after calling “cold gun,” implying the gun only contained harmless blank rounds. In reality, one live round was present in the gun barrel.
During a rehearsal for the upcoming scene, Baldwin was asked by Hutchins to point the gun in her direction as she sat near the movie camera opposite the actor. The gun then discharged, hitting and wounding director Joel Souza and killing Hutchins, who is survived by her husband and young son.
Halls’ attorney Torraco said her client was three feet from Hutchins when the firearmwent off, and is “extremely traumatized and rattled with guilt and feelings of what he could have done better.”
She added that the no contest plea was about “trying to make things easier for the family and the codefendants who are wondering how they could have done things better. Mr. Halls said I want to get this over with, everyone needs to process this and move on.”
A number of civil lawsuits have arisen from the shooting, some of which have been settled.
After more than a year spent investigating the shooting, New Mexico prosecutors in January charged Baldwin and the movie’s young armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, each with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
What are the legal implications here?
Halls decided to accept a plea agreement months ago, which suggests that whatever information he has could be used by New Mexico prosecutors in their case against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed, experts say.
“If I’m trying to read the tea leaves here, this is all lining up for Halls playing a pivotal role in the prosecution’s case,” says Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Joshua Ritter, a partner with El Dabe Ritter Trial Lawyers and a former Los Angeles County prosecutor.
“The prosecutor asked for a suspended sentence and the judge imposed that instead of a deferred sentence,” he says. “That’s essentially holding a sword over Halls’s head. If he violates any of the terms of his probation, it cuts out all the argument as to what sentence he would receive.
“He is very likely to be called as a witness in a preliminary hearing for Alec Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed,” Ritter adds. “Halls is getting a pretty good deal here in comparison to what Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are potentially facing, so he’s probably going to be a very impactful witness for the prosecution if he’s called.”
What’s the latest with armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed?
The most recent hearing related to the case was in late February and featured the virtual appearance of Gutierrez-Reed via Google Meet, during which she pleaded not guilty in the shooting death of Hutchins.
The main revelation of her 10-minute session was the judge agreeing to her attorney’s request that his client be allowed to carry a firearm. Her attorney argued this was important because his client had received numerous threatening calls and was granted a restraining order against a stalker after state officials released personal details about her in the aftermath of the shooting.
Where is Alec Baldwin?
Baldwin was also supposed to appear during the same hearing with Gutierrez-Reed. But before doing so, he exercised his right to waive his appearance while entering a plea of not guilty.
The judge agreed to allow Baldwin to stay free on his “personal recognizance.” Stipulations, however, include not possessing firearms or dangerous weapons, as well as maintaining contact with his defense attorney and not consuming alcohol. No word as yet as to when Baldwin will make his first court appearance, virtual or otherwise.
What are possible penalties in the ‘Rust’ involuntary manslaughter case?
Initially, the two charges of involuntary manslaughter against both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed carried up to five years in jail due to a special firearms charge provision. The accidental shooting resulted not only in the death of Hutchins but also in the injury of “Rust” director Joel Silva.
But after Baldwin’s lawyers successfully argued that this charge was tied to a law that came into effect in 2022, that is after the shooting, the new penalty is up to 18 months in prison.
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